COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - National protests have translated to local action in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.
In late May and early June, protesters in Columbia gathered around Columbia Police Headquarters. Some were asking for more law enforcement accountability when it comes to use of force.
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Protestors later issued a list of demands to state leaders, in part calling for increased training for “de-escalation and minimizing the use of force.”
WIS investigated how Columbia officers are using force in the community and who they’re using force against.
The Columbia Police Department publishes an annual Internal Affairs report on its website, which breaks down the procedures and statistics of how its officers deploy force. The most recent report is from 2018.
Officers of the Columbia Police Department must report:
• Pointing or presenting of any weapons, lethal or nonlethal, for the purpose of gaining compliance;
• Discharging a firearm for purposes other than training or recreation;
• Application of use of force using lethal or nonlethal weapons;
• Deployment of a police canine to apprehend or secure suspects; and
• Weaponless force that results in injury
Police officers are authorized to use less-than-lethal techniques and/or weapons to protect themselves or others from physical harm, restrain, or subdue a resistant individual and bring an unlawful situation safely and effectively under control. In these situations, police officers will evaluate the totality of the circumstances in order to determine which approved weaponless control techniques and/or less-than-lethal weapons may most effectively deescalate the incident and bring the situation under control in a safe manner.
The department's internal affairs report states the following in 2018:
• 175,037 encounters with the public
• 6,641 arrests (3.8% of all encounters)
• 68 use of force incidents (0.04% of all encounters)
The internal affairs reports states "Drugs, alcohol and mental health issues are significant factors in use of force incidents, accounting for 36 occurrences of use of force in 2018."
The internal affairs report states there were 64 suspects involved in the 68 incidents:
• 42 Black Males (65.6%)
• 14 White Males (21.9%)
• 6 Black Females (9.4%)
• 1 Hispanic Female (1.6%)
• 1 Asian Female (1.6%)
The department reports there were 96 officers involved in the 68 incidents:
• 65 White Males (67.7%)
• 19 Black Males (19.8%)
• 4 White Females (4.2%)
• 3 Black Females (3.1%)
• 3 Native American Males (3.1%)
• 2 Hispanic Males (2.1%)
The report noted that 71.8% of all use of force events involved white officers and 75% of all suspects in those events were Black.
The U.S. Census reports 40.4% of Columbia’s population is “Black or African American, alone.” It states 52.8% of the population is “white alone.”
The department provided the following breakdown of its 358 sworn personnel:
- 59.22% White Officers (186 male, 26 female)
- 36.64% African American Officers (93 male, 31 female)
- 3.63% Hispanic (8 male, 5 female)
- 0.28% Asian (1 male)
- 0.28% Native American (1 male)
- 1.96% Other (5 male, 2 female)
The report also breaks down the weapons used by officers in 2018:
- 72 hands (75%)
- 13 Taser (13.5%)
- 5 issued handgun (5.2%)
- 4 OC spray (4.2%)
- 2 K-9 bite (2.1%
Neither the internal affairs report nor the department’s annual report broke down arrests by race.
WIS reached out to the department to comment on the numbers in the report. Public Information Officer Jennifer Timmons arranged for a Skype interview with Deputy Chief Melron Kelly.
He said the department frequently discusses its use of force policy and stressed the rate at which CPD uses it. The 2018 report reflects 0.04 percent of public interactions involve force.
"We don't want to have go hands-on with an individual who is suffering or who is going to be placed under arrest. However, when that fails, we have to resort to using some level of force," he said.
He said he reviews "99.9 percent" of the department's Use of Force files it produces each year and said he was comfortable with how the department is deploying it.
"I'm conscious as a black man, being a police officer, of the use of force against a civilian at any time," he said.
He later stated, "Unfortunately those numbers [of use of force incidents] are higher in the African-American community, specifically to males. I'm an African American male, that causes me to re-evaluate how we are and where we are in employing use of force."
Kelly said he is looking for more qualified candidates of color to join CPD, so the department’s demographics better reflect the population.
36.64% of the department’s sworn personnel is black, compared to 40.4% of the city's population.
"Appealing to a younger generation [is a challenge]. The pay, while it's getting better, is not where some folks want it to be, but just the pure nature of what we do. We get to see some pretty rough stuff on occasion," he said.
"I don't want just anyone. I want someone who will treat folks how I would want to be treated. How I would want someone to treat my mother or father as a police officer. So, we reject a lot of people as well. We have to get the right people for the right community at the right time," he said.
Kelly said recent protests will result in more communication between the department, city-wide organizations, and neighborhood leaders.
"I know, when I put on a uniform I inherit the history that comes with it. Not only in Columbia but nationwide," he said. "Sometimes that history isn't always kind to certain segments of the population, specifically people of color. I need more community dialogue, I need more constructive criticism, I need more participation in the law enforcement process. But we also need more encounters during non-enforcement interactions to educate the public."
Nationwide, protesters have called for "defunding the police" or reallocating department funds for more social services. Kelly appeared open to the idea.
WIS asked: "Do you think more money toward those [social services] programs at the expense of your department might solve some of those issues?"
"As it relates to something we no longer have to do, definitely," he said.
"I would love to not to expose someone to a law enforcement interaction for something we typically wouldn't have to respond to," he added.
WIS requested similar statistics from the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the Lexington County Sheriff's Department.
As of this publication, neither department has provided those numbers.